Saturday, October 29, 2005

Why Government Charity is a Bad Idea 

Fox News is reporting that some hurricane victims appear to be auctioning off MRE's on Ebay. This is supposed to be a terrible thing for them to be doing.

But if my roof had been torn off and I had been unable to work for quite a while, cash might come at a higher premium than food. Maybe I have enough food, but need to reshingle my roof. Why is it immoral for me to sell the MRE's?

If you think it was inefficient for the government to give food to people who don't need it, you're right. But this is why the government shouldn't be in the charity business. If you think that the MRE's should be given to someone else who needs them, you're assuming that the sellers haven't already helped a lot, and that's a big assumption. You're assuming that there are people very close to these people, that they're aware of, who need the food. What are people supposed to do, drive around a three-state area looking for people who need the MRE's?

Why is it supposed to be moral for people to use the charity for exactly what it's intended for, but wrong to divert it to another need that they think is more pressing? Why is that a problem?

The root of this is that too many people think profit is inherently bad. It's an anticapitalist attitude that assumes that anyone making money must be a bad guy. But there's absolutely no reason I can think of why this should be condemned.

There was some talk in the article that it might be illegal to resell MRE's like this although there was some uncertainty on this point. If it was illegal, then they shouldn't do it, but I take this position only out of respect for the law, not because of the intrinsic moral nature of the act.

This is definitely inefficient, but that's just an argument for private charity, who is always in a much better position to determine real needs, and not waste everyone's time and money giving people things they don't need.

Whenever governments arrogate rightfully private functions to itself, it always seeks to restrict the choices of individuals regarding those functions in order to maintain their power monopoly. That's why they're upset about this, because people are proving that the market is always a more efficient way to meet these kinds of needs than the government will ever be.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Disposable translations 

While reading Ryken's excellent The Word of God in English, something occurred to me about the dynamic translation model. This is the model that seeks to present the Scriptures in language which is in tune with the people it's being presented to. So, figures of speech and cultural references are often either changed into equivalents in the target culture, or simply dropped altogether. This is the model of translation that versions such as the NIV, TNIV, Good News Bible, the Living Translation (and New Living Translation), and the Message all use.

But it occurs to me that this results in what are essentially disposable translations. It will present itself in terms that are very specific to a particular period, with the result that the Bible will become obsolete. A Bible that is written in the '70's will seem very dated by the '90's.

At first, I thought that this was a very foolish thing for the translators to do. But then I realized what a lucrative revenue stream this will create for the publishers, as everyone needs to get brand new re-translated copyrighted Bibles every decade or so.

I really hope that's not the motivation.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Magic Spells 

Sunday's sermon was called "Magic Spells", and it was taken from Acts 19. A lot of Christians worry about Halloween, but the real concern over magic should be focused on a far more pervasive problem, which is an approach to Christianity that basically looks at it as if it were a magic spell. All of the prosperity gospel and "abundant life" stuff falls into this terrible sin.

The sons of Sceva believed that the name of Jesus could be used as a magic spell. They thought they could work Him into their routine, and get a little bit of Paul's action. This was Simon the Sorcerer's sin as well, who believed he could buy the gift of the Holy Spirit from Peter.

Magic is the attempt to use some kind of power or knowledge to control or manipulate God to do what you want. It is the belief that the forces that underlie the universe could be bound to our will. And when we approach Christianity with a mind to see what we can get out of it, this is essentially what we are doing. This is a far greater danger to the church than any Harry Potter book, and serious Christians need to sit up and take notice, first looking for this attitude in their own practices, and also in their churches.

If I think that getting baptized or going to church or a mission trip or saying enough prayers forces God to bless me, then I am essentially practicing magic. I am attempting to make God my instrument to accomplish my ends.

Real religion is the opposite- I submit myself to God, and make myself His instrument, to accomplish His ends. In the Bible, the holy men never take hold of God's power to do what they want. Instead, God works miracles and accomplishes great things, sometimes using holy men as His instrument. It's all the difference in the world.

The people of Ephesus recognized the difference. When they saw the failure of the sons of Sceva, they all brought their spell books to be burned. Our spell books are not Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings- our spell books are the latest fads on how to use God to get rich, be happy, and accomplish your goals.

The whole sermon is on the sidebar link.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Bible versions 

I'm currently reading two books about English Bible versions and translation and textual issues. One of them is Leland Ryken's The Word of God in English. This is an excellent book, and makes a wonderful case for formal translations, instead of dynamic translations like the NIV or The Message.

Ryken was on the translation committee for the ESV, and that's one of the annoyances about the book- it reads like an advertisement for that version. But interestingly, if you reject his argument (or really just assertions) about the Textus Receptus being unscholarly and obsolete, the book is really a very effective argument for the King James Version.

Tune in later for more about this, and the second book I'm reading on this subject.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Value of Women Staying at Home 

Andy at Dead Mens' Voices has a beautiful post written on the deference that men used to show women in our society. We lost much when we left our traditional ways, I think.

It brings up another subject I've been meaning to write about, though I will fail to do so in Andy's eloquent fashion. I wrote here about one aspect of the economic value of women staying at home and raising kids. My point there was simply that children are an economic good, and remain so today, even if they are not as immediately an obvious benefit as they used to be in agrarian societies, which is probably why so many today forego those long-term benefits and opt for the immediate benefit of a salary.

But another aspect of the benefit of stay-at-home moms is the quality of life benefit. This is a major benefit to me. I have higher-quality meals; a cleaner house; someone taking care of the kids; someone bringing me my coffee in the morning. All of this is not an insignificant benefit. You might say that yes, there's that benefit, but that's an intangible, non-economic benefit. And my answer to that is, how much would I have to pay someone (or several someones, likely) to do all of the things that my wife does for me and my family?

Now this is especially relevant in my line of work. I'm a pastor. And a pastor needs to have people in his home a lot. Because I have a stay-at-home wife, I can feel comfortable inviting people to stop by pretty much any time, and I know that while the house isn't perfect on a moment's notice, it's never a disaster, or something I'm embarrassed of.

But everyone, not just pastors, pays a lot of money for a lot of things that have to do with quality of life, and are not strictly related to need. You buy a bigger house. Get a nicer car. Go on a vacation. Go out to eat. How much money do people spend on these things? And it was my experience, when Andrea was working, that we spent a lot more on those things. Partly because we had it to spend, but I think a big reason was also because we felt the need to get away more. It was harder work to keep the house clean, and we didn't even have kids then. Andrea didn't want to work all day and then come home and cook too. And I don't blame her.

One of the things I've learned from Getting Things Done is how much value there is to reducing the "stuff" in your life. "Stuff", according to Allen, is anything that's not in its place. And he makes no distinction in this regard between business and personal stuff, because all of it competes for the same mindspace. The same brain that worries about the new restructuring plan or the problem with the accounting department also worries about the carpets that need cleaned at home. Having a stay-at-home mom greatly reduces the amount of stuff in my life. I don't have to worry about the kids in day-care or whether the cleaning lady is stealing the good silver.

Having a stay-at-home wife is worth so much to me. I'd be hard-pressed to put a price tag on it, but I know I'd need to hire a full-time live-in person to bring me the value that my wife brings. And there are lots of truly intangible benefits that the live-in person could not provide (like getting a kiss when I get my morning coffee!).

People often say that they could not afford to live on one salary any more. I say they're often not looking at the whole picture. It's certainly true sometimes. But a lot of times it's just short-sighted; not looking at the whole picture. The wife in Proverbs 31 had created a worry-free environment that allowed her husband to pursue lots of other interests, including politics. Maybe we don't have a lot of cash to take fancy vacations. But I love my home. I don't feel that big a need to get away from it. And my wife is the reason that I love my home.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Limon blogs 

Just out of curiousity, I did a Google on "Limon Colorado blog". Almost every relevant result was someone blogging a trip in which they drove through Limon.

We're the hub city. Everyone's been through Limon.

Getting Things Done 

I have recently become a David Allen fan. This happened mostly thorugh the instigation of Merlin at 43 Folders, whose list of 5ives I'd been reading a while, but only discovered the main site fairly recently. David Allen is the author of a book called Getting Things Done, a book I just can't recommend enough if you're looking to become more productive.

I did it all- I did the personal review, I set up a tickler file, I reorganized my whole workspace and re-processed all my "stuff". I now live by next actions. I even duplicated the workflow chart and printed it out and taped it up in front of my workspeace.

Forgetting things used to be just part of my modus operandi. I thought of it as part of my inimitable charm. But there's really nothing very charming about it, and sometimes you really need to retire the personal cliches. I still forget things, but I feel like I've really made progress in that regard.

I haven't gone as far as the Hipster PDA, though. I'd just bought a new Palm Tungsten to replace my HP Ipaq H1910 (broken by lifting a heavy object against it inadvertently- the danger of the belt clip) and I love it. Palm always had a certain elegance that PocketPC lacked. PocketPC feels too much like someone trying to cram Windows onto a 3 inch screen, whereas Palm OS always felt more like it was actually designed with a PDA in mind. I started with a Palm IIIx way back in the day, but went to Ipaqs when I worked for Compaq (and then HP, inadvertently). I won one in a contest and got a good deal on another, and Andrea and I both used them. But when it was time to replace it, I just felt like there was a lot more bang for the buck in the Palm OS, and I haven't been disappointed.

So to sum up, David Allen knows his stuff. Check it out if you feel like you could use a little (or a lot, as was my case) more organization in your life.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Book Review- Think Before You Look 

This is another Mind and Media review. This time, the book is Think Before You Look by Daniel Henderson. The book is intended to help those struggling with pornography addiction specifically, though it generally addresses the issue of lust.

I have reviewed a few other books on this topic, False Intimacy and Not Even a Hint. This book is more similar to Not Even a Hint than it is to False Intimacy, because it's aimed more at people trying to overcome the sin themselves and less as an indepth study of sexual addiction from a counselor's perspective. Think Before You Look is a book I'd be quicker to recommend for counselees, while False Intimacy is a great book for counselors.

TBYL is laid out in 40 short chapters, and each chapter is meant to be a stand-alone reading. I can't help but think that this layout is cribbed to some degree from The Purpose Driven Life. Each chapter gives us a different positive reason to avoid pornography. The aim of the book very much feels to encourage and empower people to avoid pornography, rather than just lay on a lot of guilt about how wrong it is. It certainly does talk about how wrong it is, but I liked this approach. It felt a lot like the Biblical model of putting off / putting on. That is, the Biblical model is never just to stop sinning, but to replace sinful behavior and attitudes with God-glorifying, righteous behaviors and attitudes. So Paul says, "Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need." The attitude and behavior of a parasite on society is replaced with the attitude and behavior of one who supports and gives back to society.

And so in TBYL, we are encouraged to think about everything we have to gain by avoiding pornography. A fuller experience of the grace of God, a guilt-free life, a healthy and tender conscience and better relationships, to name a few, are the kinds of things that are held out to the reader as benefits to encourage the reader to avoid the sin of pornography.

Henderson is a perceptive writer. He has a way of using images and comparisons to drive his point home effectively. One of the comparisons he returns to several times is to describe pornography as social and moral terrorism, and I found this to be an extremely apt way of describing it. The purpose of terrorism is to either provoke a nation into counterproductive behaviors, or to raise the cost of acting in productive ways so high that the nation forgoes its otherwise legitimate interests. And so, the terrorists in Iraq attempt to either provoke us into unrestrained acts of violence in order to turn the civilian population against us, or to weary us into abandoning the effort.

I believe pornography has the same effect on our nation, multiplied a million times over. I believe that Christian men in this society are very often afraid to take on their obligation to Christian leadership, because they are afraid of what secrets might come out. And there's no doubt that pornography has driven many to greater acts of criminality and violence. Henderson claims that virtually all serial killers began with pornography. And he quotes Ted Bundy, the serial killer, as saying that virtually everyone he met in prison with a penchant for violence was also involved in pornography. I did not research these claims of Hendersons' myself, but I believe them to be true.

This is not a deeply theological book, but it's a Biblically sound book. He focuses frequently on the truth of sex as a gift from God, and on the fact that man and woman were created the way they were not as accidents but as a major part of God's plan for humanity. He shows how lust and pornography sabotage and undermine the true purpose of our sexuality.

One story he tells is of a poor young European man who is making the long journey to America on a ship. He has little money, and little food, and carefully hoards his food to himself, rationing it out so that it will last, and never eating in the dining hall since he is sure he can't afford it and wants to save his money. At the end of the trip, after nearly starving, he finds out that the food in the dining hall does not cost anything extra, but is included in the fare. Henderson applies this by saying that sex is part of God's plan for us, and its benefits are free, when we use them the way God intended. But the user of pornography is like that poor young man, eking out his miserable pleasures alone because he thinks he can't afford the larger blessings.

Another point he makes is to remind us how quickly many years of effort can be undone. He uses the example of the Titanic, or the Twin Towers, to show how years of effort and labor can be undone in just minutes. Years of labor in the ministry, years of work on a marriage, years of raising children, can all be undone in the blink of an eye, if we do not put the time in early to cultivate a disciplined life.

I thought this book was excellent, and would recommend it to anyone struggling with the problem or dealing with those who are. One minor gripe I have is the 40 chapters- it seems kind of an artificial way to capitalize on the popularity of the Purpose Driven Life frankly. And it results in some forcing of the topics- there are many chapters that seemed artificially broken out into separate chapters, just to get the total of forty. But this is really a minor gripe.

Another complaint I have is the use of Scripture, which is pretty typical of Christian books today. He uses a lot of different translations, whichever seems to suit his purpose best in any given place. I find this annoying, and it's a pretty poor doctrine of Scripture, I think. It views the Scripture as a way to support the points we want to make. It would be one thing if the use of different translations was driven by the belief that one translation in one plase was more accurate than another which might be better in other places. But when many of the translations are paraphrases, accuracy seems unlikely to be the motivating factor and it's obviously just about which translation suits the author's purpose better in any given place. But I did not find this tendency to be nearly as egregious as it was in Purpose Driven Life, and does not detract from the content.

The book doesn't do as good a job of going into the root natures of the problem as False Intimacy does, but this is not the purpose of the book. I thought it was a better book for dealing with the problem on a personal, day-to-day basis than Not Even a Hint was. Henderson seems to bring a level of insight and experience which Harris lacks, but then Henderson is a much older man than Josh Harris, so that makes sense.

Good job, Rev. Henderson. And thanks, Mind and Media, for the opportunity to review this book.

Monday, October 17, 2005

New sermons 

Two new sermons are posted, from Acts 18 and 19. The most recent sermon is on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and also addresses the issue of the so-called "rebaptism" of Acts 19. The link is on the sidebar, or click here

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Review- Grace for the Race 

Grace for the Race is a book intended for busy mothers. Andrea just so happens to be a busy mother, whereas I fail quite badly in one part of that qualification. So I had her review this one.

Grace for the Race
: Meditations for Busy Moms
by Dena Dyer

Grace for the Race, by Dena Dyer is first-person accounts of life stories as seen through her faith. She draws from her childhood experiences, friendships, courtship, marriage, and motherhood. As stated in her subtitle, she wrote this intending to minister to busy moms. I am a busy mom, so my husband gave this book to me to read and review. Certainly, this does not tax the brain or require long stretches of time for devoted reading. Each reading is two pages long with one page of verses, cutely titled “Notes from the Coach”.

My immediate reaction upon seeing the cover of this book was irritation. The cover is a pretty pink color with a cutsie drawing of a mom jumping a hurdle--baby, cell phone, and brief case in her arms. The cover implied to me that the target market was to moms, you know those women who aren’t concerned with big ideas and serious thinking. A cartoon character implies to me frivolity. I tried to set my first impression aside and began reading. Mrs. Dyer’s stated goals in her introduction were promising. Yes, I do want to be encouraged to view my childhood, “even the unsavory parts--through the lens of God’s grace.” I want to accept my weaknesses and my children’s weaknesses as gifts from God. These are among the lofty goals she has for this book.

I admire Mrs. Dyer’s bravery in examining very personal events about herself. Her stories are humorous and it is apparent she is drawing from rich relationships with family and friends. While I enjoyed her writing style, I was disappointed at her poor theology. For example, in an essay titled “Sowing in Tears,” she quotes writer Ken Gire: “In each tear is distilled something of eternity, something of love and compassion and tenderness, all things that originate in heaven and come to earth as a sacrament to my soul, if only I am willing to take and eat.” She then applies it to her own life thus, “So whether I weep at a wedding, sob during a funeral, or tear up with joy while listening to a friend’s good fortune, I’m no longer ashamed. In fact, during this pregnancy, I’m crying with abandon--content in the knowledge that I’m touching both heaven and earth at the same time.” Gire has a very appealing way of stating this view of tears, but to refer to them as a sacrament is extra-biblical. There is so much more real instruction in the actual texts of the Bible on tears than the gnostic statement by Gire. One of my favorite passages on tears is Ecclesiastes 7:2&3, “ Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better.” I know what to do with this, but what does it really mean to “touch heaven and earth at the same time”?

My biggest irritation with the book, however, is the use of Scripture. Mrs. Dyer tells a story and then gives verses that are supposed to apply. In “Journaling for the Soul,” she writes of how valuable journaling has been in her own experience, which I can see. There’s nothing wrong with journaling, but then she tacks on Ex 34:27, Jeremiah 30:1-2, etc, quoting verses where God commands specific people to write a specific message to a specific audience. . When the Ruler of the universe says something, it should hold authority with the intended audience. Further, God inspired the content of the writing He commanded. This is not something we could apply to our human journaling. To use this in the context of journaling either elevates journaling to a place of importance where it doesn’t rightfully belong, or it cheapens God’s word. In addition to this, she uses multiple translations. It grieves my soul to read “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are--no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.” Matthew 5:5 (MSG). Compare that to “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5 (New King James). I did not recognize the voice of my dear heavenly Father in some of the passages attributed to Him. It’s ironic to me that a writer would be so cavalier with the translations she chooses to use. Certainly, she would be angered if I quoted her, taking out carefully chosen words, and represented her writing as flat and uninteresting. How much more important are the words of God, in which we find our life?

If I were reading Grace for the Race as merely a collection of stories, I would have enjoyed it. She is a good story teller. When looking for “grace for the race,” however, I think I will look elsewhere.

--Andrea Powell

For Mind and Media

Comment spam 

I've been getting a lot of comment spam lately. I've been trying to delete it, but I may have missed some, and some of it's pornographic. I apologize if you've been sullied by it.

I've turned on some verification requirements for comments, so this should reduce this problem. Yet another example of the tragedy of the commons, I'm afraid.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Review- Rare Jewel Magazine for Mind and Media 

Rare Jewel Magazine is a magazine aimed at Christians and is a magazine with a mission- specifically, “Empowering Christians to exercise a Biblical worldview.” It comes out every two months, and each issue focuses on a different broad subject, so that all of the articles in a given issue examine the same subject from various different perspectives. It is therefore definitely an advocacy magazine, or an issues magazine, rather than just a general knowledge kind of magazine. Less National Geographic, more National Review.

Some of the topics that RJ has focused on in the five issues I have thus far received are “Christophobia: The Growing Hatred of Christians... and Its Implications for America”; “The Sanctity of Life”; and “The Shame of a Culture: America's War on the Family”. A variety of writers (some of which are staff writers for RJ and some of which are better-known figures such as Tony Perkins or Senator Tom Coburn). There will usually be some staff interviews with representatives of different (usually Christian) organizations such as Focus on the Family. Some of the articles will be general essays, some will address events of the day and some will be more of a historical nature. But all will address whatever broad topic that issue is meant to address.

RJ's perspective is unapologetically Christian, but non-sectarian. Generically evangelical would probably describe it well. The magazine has little focus on doctrinal issues at all, instead focusing on problems and threats in our society from the perspective of what it calls a “Christian worldview”. It frequently refers to Christian Patriots (another tagline is "The Christian Patriots' Guide to Restoring our Culture"), and probably this term best describes the worldview it's coming from. A Christian Patriot is someone who is some kind of Christian (no particular doctrinal focus seems to be required) who believes that a return to this nation's roots at its founding is what's necessary to cure our problems. It is a sort of Kuyperian worldview focus, with a heavy emphasis on the Christian perspective on politics and none of Kuyper's Calvinism. And so, when the magazine advocates a course of action to solve particular problems, the actions suggested are virtually always social or political actions. Call your senator, start a petition, become knowledgeable, educate your kids. There might be a suggestion to pray for a particular problem, but prayer to RJ seems usually an objective utilitarian device, just another tool to effect the desired political or social outcome. The focus in RJ is all on our Christian heritage and Christian morals.

And so there is very little focus on the gospel or on doctrine in general in RJ. Perhaps it is trying to reach as broad a selection of American Christians as possible, but when there's a list of the ten things we can do to redeem our culture and the gospel isn't one of them, that stands out like a sore thumb to me. This feature stands out more in the context of some of its topics than others. When addressing the issue of creationism vs. evolution, the topic is presented well within the range of what the magazine wants to do, but when RJ is advocating methods and approaches for broad cultural change, the lack of doctrinal or evangelical approaches hurts it a good deal, at least by my expectations.

But within the range of what it's trying to do, it does it very well. I found it to be generally well-written and substantial. There is a great range of approaches to their problems, some personal, some objective, some historical. Often with other magazines I find myself drawn to an article and become interested in that subject, but feel that one article doesn't fully explore the topic like I'd like. But with RJ, I get to read a whole magazine on the topic, from lots of different angles and perspectives, which more thoroughly satisfies my interest in the topic.

It is also a well-produced magazine. There's a lot of color; a lot of sidebars and asides which provide interesting side details to the article at hand. There are photos, but not so many and so large that there's little room for text left sometimes, one of my few criticisms of World Magazine. But then, it's not a news magazine, as World is. I found it a very easy and enjoyable magazine to read, from a purely mechanical point of view.

My favorite issues were issues that were narrowly focused on a topic with much potential for informing the reader, such as their issue on creationism or on the sanctity of life (especially abortion). I found these issues to be excellent, and spurred me on to a great deal of thinking about the topics.

The problems I had with the magazine's approach really only affected my view of some issues, where there were broader societal or political trends being addressed. And even in these issues, I found RJ to be very informative and provocative. But it was the constant focus on political and social efforts as the solution to all of our problems, with little or no mention of the gospel and the true knowledge of God that I most objected to. So I would recommend RJ, especially if you are aware of what you're getting and what you're not.

This is a Mind and Media – sponsored review.


Sunday's sermon is posted, from the link on the sidebar.

It's on Acts 18, and is on the subject of election. From the text it's clear that God knows His own and ensures the salvation of His own.


I have added another site to my blogroll- FocalElement. I've really enjoyed what I've seen there so far, so check it out if you're so inclined.

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